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Lawmakers bustled in and out of the House chambers yesterday as the Legislature met on the final day of formal sessions.
Lawmakers bustled in and out of the House chambers yesterday as the Legislature met on the final day of formal sessions. (David Kamerman/ Globe Staff)

Minimum wage hike veto rejected

Romney overridden by unanimous vote

The Legislature unanimously overrode Governor Mitt Romney's veto of a minimum wage increase last night, rejecting the governor's view that the boost would hurt businesses and the poor.

The override means that the state's minimum wage will probably be among the highest in the country within two years. The legislation increases the $6.75-an-hour rate to $7.50 an hour on Jan. 1 and to $8 in 2008.

The vote, at shortly before 8 p.m., followed very little debate, and though it appeared all Republican members of both chambers abandoned the governor, an official roll call was not immediately available last night. The House voted 152 to 0 to override Romney, and minutes later the Senate voted 38 to 0.

``For those of us that care about the minimum wage, it's simply an issue of fairness, of economic justice," said state Senator Marc R. Pacheco, a Taunton Democrat who was the chief sponsor of the Senate bill.

The action on the minimum wage bill, along with votes on a range of legislation, was delayed last night when a slew of Democratic lawmakers exited the Statehouse about 5:30 p.m. to attend a downtown fund-raiser for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee with the state's congressional delegation.

The event, at the University of Massachusetts club in a Franklin Street high-rise, was held on the final day of the formal sessions for the Legislature, typically the last day on which significant legislation is considered. Only noncontroversial measures are supposed to be taken up during the remainder of the year.

Last night's session went late into the evening.

Business groups had lobbied against the minimum wage bill, saying it would reduce jobs.

``This could really hurt many small businesses," said Erin Trabucco, general counsel for the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, which represents about 3,000 retailers and restaurant owners. ``Retailers are going to be left with no option other than to reduce the number of jobs they're offering or raise consumer prices."

When Romney vetoed the bill last week, he said its ``abrupt and disproportionate increases" would hurt the economy. He countered with his own ``more modest approach," which would have increased the wage by 25 cents on Jan. 1 and subjected future raises to study.

``Governor Romney and the Legislature share the common goal of increasing the minimum wage, but they were not able to come to agreement on the size of that increase," the governor's press secretary, Eric Fehrnstrom, wrote in an e-mail statement last night. ``The governor favored an increase in line with inflation and periodic reviews every two years. The Legislature wanted an increase that substantially exceeded the rate of inflation, and we thought that was too much, too fast."

Of the 315,000 workers who will be affected by the increase, 3 out of 4 are age 20 or older, 3 out of 5 are women, and almost half work full time, according to a study by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center

Carl Nilsson -- a spokesman for Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts, a group that advocates for low-income people -- said that poor families had made great strides in a session in which the Legislature also passed a historic bill to expand healthcare coverage.

``In Massachusetts, we've provided a blueprint for what the rest of the country should be doing," he said. ``I think we all agree that people who are working hard and playing by the rules shouldn't be living in poverty."

Also yesterday, the Legislature failed to reach a resolution on a bill to extend the statute of limitations on sex offenses. The Legislature accepted some of the governor's changes to a welfare reform bill, but House minority leader Bradley H. Jones predicted Romney would veto the bill unless there were further compromises.

A bill to tighten requirements for teenage drivers also hit a snag, after key House supporters refused to accept a Senate-approved amendment that would require all Massachusetts residents to show personal identification when registering a motor vehicle. House members called the amendment irrelevant.

Lawmakers said they hoped to reach a compromise in the coming months on that and other controversial legislation, but passing such a measure, or any significant bill, is difficult in informal session, because approval must be unanimous.

The House and Senate have given initial approval to legislation to require more training for young drivers and to give the state, rather than local driving schools, oversight over driver's education courses. The Senate also added an amendment that would have made it illegal for drivers under the age of 18 to use a cellphone while operating a vehicle.

Senator Richard R. Tisei, who added the amendment requiring that identification be shown when a car is being registered, said he is concerned that people are using aliases when registering vehicles, making it impossible for their ownership to be traced.

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